WASHINGTON (AP) — The negotiations hardly ran smoothly. But in the end, persistence paid off.
Six weeks ago, not long after Hamas killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and took scores of others hostage in a surprise assault, the government of Qatar quietly reached out to the United States to discuss how to release those who had been taken captive by the militant group.
But the mission demanded extreme sensitivity. It was so secret that U.S. officials established a communications cell to reach Hamas directly, and kept those negotiations tightly guarded throughout the U.S. government. Only a handful of people were aware of the talks, according to a senior White House official.
For weeks through the cell, which allowed the small circle of negotiators to speak regularly without additional bureaucracy, U.S. and Israeli officials would scramble to put together a deal that would release dozens of hostages held by Hamas. The White House saw that as the only realistic way to halt the bloody combat that has devastated the region for more than six weeks.
The U.S. continuously pushed Hamas, with Qatar and Egypt acting as critical intermediaries. All the while, President Joe Biden and other senior U.S. officials assured distraught family members of hostages through emotional Zooms and in-person meetings that they were doing everything they could to secure their loved ones' release.
The U.S. president was still working…